Sainsbury's looks to raise expansion cash

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The Independent Online

Supermarket Sainsbury's today announced plans to raise £445 million to ramp-up store expansion as it reported a 7.8 per cent rise in first quarter sales.

The group's like-for-like sales hike, excluding VAT and fuel, smashes the 4.3 per cent growth reported by market leader Tesco yesterday.

Sainsbury's, which has been enjoying a revival amid the recession, said it now wants to boost store base by 15 per cent by March 2011 and it is asking shareholders for the cash to fund the move.

The group's sales update for the 12 weeks to June 13 confirmed further growth for the resurgent chain.

Sales not adjusted for VAT increased 7 per cent - significantly higher than its 4.5 per cent full-year rise.

Supermarkets have been slashing prices as competition to attract recession-hit shoppers heats up, and Sainsbury's said it had lowered price tags on 7,000 products since the start of the year.

The group's customer numbers have grown to 18.5 million a week as it has stolen market share from its bigger rival Tesco - with the latest TNS Worldpanel market share data showing Sainsbury's saw the second fastest annual growth behind Morrisons at the expense of Tesco.

It today outlined a series of moves to further bolster its position, underpinned by an accelerated expansion strategy to add 2.5 million square foot of selling space in less than two years.

The group has agreed to buy a further nine stores from the Co-operative Group on top of the 24 already acquired.

Sainsbury's is also launching its non-food offering online in the next quarter, selling 8,000 products from kitchenware to furniture.

Justin King, chief executive, said: "Over the past four years we have reinvigorated our business and demonstrated the strength of Sainsbury's brand with 18 consecutive quarters of like-for-like sales growth.

"The fund-raising announced today will provide us with the financial flexibility to take advantage of current opportunities to grow our business further and faster."